Barcelona-bred songwriter and producer Gisela Fulla-Silvestre holds a degree in film scoring and sound design from Berklee College of Music, but Habits, her debut EP as NOIA, has a sensibility that seems more informed by conceptual art, or maybe architecture. It’s a short set of four complex and elusive songs, full of ideas and twists, but it feels weightless and sleek. On first listen, all you’ll probably hear is light-flooded electronic dance pop – pearlescent synths and pleasantly resonant drum sounds creating lots of space for NOIA’s breezy vocals. You can enjoy it on that level, and it’s great background music for just about anything; however, close listening is also recommended. There’s a lot going on.
The songs “Love Hack” and “Carl Sagan vs. Zeus” reference Greek mythology in ways that pit age-old aspects of the human psyche against our current world, supposedly demystified by science and simplified by technology. “Love Hack” shows Eros’ ancient power to be no less confounding this age of virtual reality and video chat. In its pale fire, you can hear a flicker of Grimes’ quicksilver songwriting, albeit strained through a Europop filter. Tired as the comparison might be, opener “Carl Sagan vs. Zeus” sounds a bit like Björk’s Homogenic if Björk sat down to write those songs today after listening to a lot of R&B. Fans of Buscabulla or El Guincho will feel immediately at home with the equatorial minimalism of “Itaca Tropical.” The influences may be diverse, but her sonic palette keeps everything harmonious, like an intricate yet monochromatic painting.
The peak of the EP is “Nostalgia del Futuro,” which, in a few simple lyrics, sums up the fundamental treachery of human desire: “El oro que divisas de lejos se sacude y es ceniza/Nostalgia del futuro como único hogar,” she sings. The insistent hook in the chorus where she repeats the phrase “nostalgia del futuro” calls to mind the eternal return. The song is almost a philosophical puzzle in itself: It should collapse under the weight of its existential theme, but instead it’s catchy and airy. It takes off like a little airplane and does barrel rolls.
In one way or another, all four songs on the Brooklyn-based musician’s debut are like this. They are cerebral confrontations between the human heart and (post?)modernity wrapped in cleverly crafted, incredibly lightweight productions. As debuts go, Habits is startling in how strong and clear a statement it is, and, though brief, it can be enjoyed again and again, one fragile layer at a time.
Habits is out now via Cascine.